MOORE, Oklahoma: Families returned to a blasted moonscape that had been an American suburb on Tuesday after a monstrous tornado tore through the outskirts of Oklahoma City, killing at least 24 people.
Passengers flying into Oklahoma City could see the track left by nature’s fury as it played out Monday: The spot where the tornado touched down, then chewed through the suburb of Moore like a giant lawnmower for 45 terrifying minutes.
Nine children were among the dead and entire neighborhoods vanished, with often the foundations being the only thing left of what used to be houses and cars tossed like toys and heaped in big piles.
“It’s unreal. It’s so visceral,” said 32-year-old accountant Roger Graham as he combed through the ruins of the three-bedroom home he shared with his wife Kalissa, a school teacher, recovering what he could.
Meanwhile, Philippine President Benigno Aquino 3rd expressed his sympathy to the victims of the tornado.
In a press conference in Malacañang, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said that government and the people of the Philippines “are deeply saddened by the loss of young lives in this catastrophe, many of whom perished in a school where they sought refuge.
“The Filipino people join the world in grief in the wake of a devastating tornado that struck Oklahoma City and its environs.” Valte said. “We extend our sympathies to the thousands affected by this calamity, among them the Filipino-American community, who are confronted by the daunting task of rebuilding their lives and their homes.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with their parents and families in these difficult times. May all the victims of this disaster find solace and strength in the days ahead knowing the world stands steadfast with you,” Valte added.
Kelly Pirtle of the United States weather agency’s Severe Storms Laboratory in nearby Norman, said the tornado was the strongest possible category, EF5, packing winds of more than 321 kilometers per hour.
Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty told a news conference that 20 people had been killed in Moore and four more elsewhere in the city.
“There could be obviously others in the coming days. The search is still going on, heavily in Moore because they have such a large area to cover,” he said, adding: “So we have a 24 right now. There could be more.
“All of the people that have been reported missing—initially last night, about 48—all of those have been actually found except for I think a few left in Moore that they are working on to try to locate that have not.”
At least 101 people have been pulled alive from under debris, said Terri Watkins of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, and officials said more than 200 people have been injured.
Some of the children killed were buried when the two-mile wide funnel of wind demolished an elementary school.
US President Barack Obama declared a “major disaster” as crews combed the wreckage of the shattered community, where even residents with long memories of past storms were shocked by the devastation.
In televised remarks from the White House, Obama made special mention of the young victims as he mourned those lost and promised to provide survivors with the help they need to find their footing.
“The people of Moore should know that their country will remain on the ground there for them, beside them as long as it takes for their homes and schools to rebuild,” Obama said.
“There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and bedrooms and classrooms and in time we’re going to need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community,” he added.